British Manufacturing

British Manufacturing

Thursday, October 21, 2021

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World - blurb

The peoples of the British Isles gave to the world the foundations on which modern manufacturing economies are built. This is quite an assertion, but history shows that, in the late eighteenth century, a remarkable combination of factors and circumstances combined to give birth to Britain as the first manufacturing nation. Further factors allowed it to remain top manufacturing dog well into the twentieth century, although other countries were busy playing catch up. Through two world wars and the surrounding years, British manufacturing remained strong, albeit whilst ceding the lead to the United States.

This book seeks to tell the remarkable story of British manufacturing, using the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a prism. Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole had conceived an idea of bringing together exhibits from manufacturers across the world to show to its many millions of visitors the pre-eminence of the British. 1851 was not the start, but rather a pause for a bask in glory. 

I trace back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s crystal palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence. I then follow developments up until the Festival of Britain exactly one century later. Steam power and communication by electric telegraph, both British inventions, predated the Exhibition. After it, came the sewing machine and bicycle, motor car and aeroplane, but also electrical power, radio and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries where Britain played a leading part.   

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

British Manufacturing and net zero

The power for the kick start for the Industrial Revolution was water. Arkwright’s mill in deepest Derbyshire was powered by water rushing down from the peaks. 

A little later, in Northumberland, a young William Armstrong walked through moors outside Newcastle and marvelled at the latent power in the streams. He would harness this hydraulic power in many of the machines he made, not least in the docks of New Grimsby. 

Later, William Siemens would harness water power to drive the generator he installed to light the Surrey town of Godalming.

Later still, the smelting of aluminium was made economically possible by the use of Scottish hydro-electric power. 

The Festival of Britain celebrated the potential of water power in the exhibition at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. 

These are perhaps small examples from the history of British manufacturing which underline the age old fact that nothing is new. We had power before fossil fuels and will do so again once they have ceased to be used. 

It is though a question of scale. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain both exported more coal than any other country and imported more oil. What we now have a plenty are talented engineers ready to take on the challenge of net zero. 

The Duke of Devonshire’s artificial water fall at Chatsworth. It was the Devonshires who sold Barrow shipyard to Vickers. 


How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World - my starting point

 Today it seems a brave, or even reckless, assertion to suggest that Britain might have shaped the manufacturing world. Yet, looking back th...